Saturday, November 30, 2013

Congress Deflates, Bigelow Inflates

An artist's concept of the proposed Bigelow Olympus habitat. Image source: Bloomberg Businessweek.

A November 27 article on the Space News web site demonstrates yet again why the biggest obstacle to humanity in space is Congress.

Titled “U.S. Intellectual Property Rules Hinder Space Station Research,” Debra Werner writes that the 2010 Space Act passed by Congress included language that hinders the ability of CASIS to attract commercial research to the International Space Station.

At the root of the problem is legislation that designated part of the space station a U.S. National Laboratory. In the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, the U.S. Congress directed the space agency to create a cooperative agreement with a nonprofit organization to manage the space station’s National Laboratory. Cooperative agreements established by federal agencies include standard, U.S. government-wide terms and conditions, including requirements for intellectual property rights, said Courtney Graham, NASA associate general council for commercial and intellectual property law. “If you look at any of the cooperative agreements from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate or any other part of NASA, you’ll see the same type of terms and conditions,” Graham said.

In addition, since NASA is a title-taking agency, any large contractor that wants to retain title to an invention developed through the use of a NASA facility has to submit a waiver. If not, the space agency automatically acquires a license for government use of the invention.

Organizations routinely submit requests for NASA to waive that title-taking authority. NASA reviews the waiver and “pretty much always says, ‘Sure you can have rights to your invention,’” Graham said. That process is required by all NASA cooperative agreements. It is in all NASA contracts and funded Space Act Agreements as well, Graham said.

According to the article, NASA and CASIS have requested legislation that would “give the NASA administrator authority to waive the license to any inventions made during scientific utilization of the national laboratory that is unrelated to NASA work if reservation of the license 'would substantially inhibit the commercialization of an invention.'”

The language is in the Senate's version of the 2013 NASA authorization bill, but as with pretty much everything else in Congress these days it too is stalled and unlikely to pass this year.

On November 26, I wrote a blog article titled “What is NewSpace?” which attempted to delineate the differences between OldSpace and NewSpace. Some online pundits have claimed there is no difference.

Well, here's a big one.

Bigelow Aerospace, which plans to launch inflatable habitats into low Earth orbit in 2017, would offer laboratories that are not regulated by Congressional intellectual property right laws. If you do research on a Bigelow habitat ... it's yours.

Click the arrow to watch a January 2013 interview with Robert Bigelow. You may be subjected to an ad first. Video source: Bloomberg Businessweek.

When operational circa 2017, customers will fly to the Bigelow habitats on the same commercial crew vehicles that could transport NASA astronauts to the ISS — the SpaceX Dragon or the Boeing CST-100. The Dragon currently delivers cargo to the ISS, so presumably it could deliver to Bigelow as well.

Bigelow's expandable systems are based on a 1990s NASA technology called TransHab, which was foreseen as an inflatable module that could be used as ISS crew quarters, and possibly one day for Moon or Mars missions. The 2000 Space Act ended TransHab, reportedly to force NASA to focus on completing ISS construction with existing technology. At that point, the ISS was many years behind its originally envisioned completion date.

The 2000 legislation carved out an exception for “leasing or otherwise using a commercially provided inflatable habitation module.”

That opened the door for Bob Bigelow.

From a May 2, 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek article:

Congress ... was already moving to cancel funding for the program when Bigelow called to arrange a visit to the TransHab team at Johnson Space Center. NASA administrator Daniel Goldin suggested rescuing the technology by offering it for development to a consortium of aerospace companies, including Mitsubishi, plus Bigelow, who attended meetings as an independent investor. “I had no employees at that time. I was just there as me,” he says. When the corporations proved reluctant to put their own money into the program, the deal collapsed. But Bigelow was less interested in being a cost-plus contractor of the old school than in owning a technology he believed represented the future of space travel. So he decided to pursue the expandable habitat technology alone, with or without NASA’s permission. He went back to Nevada and, in April 1999, quietly formed a new company: Bigelow Aerospace. Then he bought 50 acres of land in an industrial park in North Las Vegas, and set a handful of engineers to work on figuring out how to build an inflatable house that could fly in space.

But in 2002, NASA finally canceled the TransHab project, and Bigelow applied to license the technology, in exchange for an initial $400,000 fee and a commitment for a far more significant sum — what he now says was “tens of millions” of dollars — into a development program. Under the terms of the agreement, Bigelow was able to bring many members of the original TransHab team to Las Vegas, including William Schneider, the veteran engineer, by that time already retired from NASA to teach, who had overseen the agency’s project from the start.

Bob Bigelow's investment is the key to opening space to the private sector.

Yes, it's worthless without the vehicles to transport people. But those are coming. They would be here sooner, except Congress cut the commercial crew funding 62% over the last three years from the Obama administration's funding request. This pushed back commercial crew's projected operational date from 2015 to 2017.

The House of Representatives hopes to cut this year's Obama administration request by 40%, extending U.S. reliance on Russia for ISS transportation to at least 2018.

Despite Congressional ineptitude, sooner or later a private crew vehicle will deliver customers to a private habitat in Earth orbit.

When that happens, Congress is no longer relevant to human spaceflight.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What is NewSpace?

SpaceX founder Elon Musk on the cover of the October 24, 2013 issue of The Atlantic.

What is NewSpace?

Over the weekend, the Washington Post published a lengthy article by Joel Achenbach titled, “Which Way to Space?” The article was primarily a review of the various NewSpace companies such as SpaceX, but also attempted to define the differences between NewSpace and OldSpace:

Old Space (and this is still the dreamers talking) is slow, bureaucratic, government-directed, completely top-down. Old Space is NASA, cautious and halting, supervising every project down to the last thousand-dollar widget. Old Space is Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman. Old Space coasts on the glory of the Apollo era and isn’t entirely sure what to do next.

New Space is the opposite of all that. It’s wild. It’s commercial, bootstrapping, imaginative, right up to the point of being (and this is no longer the dreamers talking) delusional.

Many of the New Space enterprises are still in the PowerPoint stage, with business models built around spaceships that haven’t yet gone to space. A bold attitude and good marketing aren’t enough to put a vehicle into orbit. The skeptics among the Old Space people will say to the upstarts: Where’s your rocket? How many times have you launched? Can you deliver reliably? Repeatedly? Safely? We put a man on the moon — what have you done?

Not everyone believes in the OldSpace/NewSpace paradigm.

Keith Cowing of NASA Watch says “it's just name calling”:

This “New Space” Vs “Old Space” designation is just a semantic ploy used by people who want NASA money for their company or pet idea that is currently being given to another company/project. You have to convince NASA that you are worthy of funding so you make the status quo look like dinosaurs. Market analysis, engineering excellence, and sound investment never seem to be important to the New Spacers. Being “new” and not “old” is, so it would seem. People who try and pigeon hole companies as being either “Old Space“ or “New Space” into one category or another are missing what is really going on.

If you've read my blog, you know I'm a firm believer that the paradigm exists, and here's why.

Mr. Cowing is mistaken if he thinks NewSpace is about NASA. It's not.

It's about a way of going about your business.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK are infamous for throwing around their weight in the halls of Congress. ranks Boeing as one of their “heavy hitters,” having contributed $3.4 million in campaign contributions and spent $15.6 million on lobbying in 2012. During the same year, Lockheed Martin (another heavy hitter) spent $4.0 million in campaign contributions and $15.3 million on lobbying. ATK during that period spent $401,000 in campaign contributions and $1.6 million on lobbying.

These companies routinely engage in monopolistic business practices. Having developed cozy relationships with Congress, the military and NASA over the decades, they were able to convince Congress to grant them monopoly consortia.

The orbiter Endeavour in Orbiter Processing Facility 2 in May 2010. The orbiters were managed by United Space Alliance. Image source: NASA.

United Space Alliance was created in 1995 by Boeing and Lockheed Martin to become the primary contractor for running NASA's Space Shuttle program. At its height in 2008 (a presidential election year), USA spent $153,900 in campaign contributiions and $679,000 on lobbying — above and beyond what Boeing and Lockheed Martin spent as individual companies. In 2007, they spent $979,000 on lobbying.

In 2006, the Bush administration granted a legal monopoly to United Launch Alliance, another Boeing/LockMart partnership. According to an October 4, 2006 Washington Post article, the Federal Trade Commission acknowledged the deal would “probably lead to higher prices and lower quality.”

The Defense Department has expressed concerns that with only a few rocket launches each year, one of the two companies could have been pushed out of business. Loath to be dependent on one type of rocket, the Defense Department argued for the joint venture, to be known as the United Launch Alliance.

Under the agreement, both Boeing's Delta and Lockheed's Atlas rockets will still be produced. The companies will consolidate production at Boeing's Decatur, Ala., facility, while Lockheed's Denver office will serve as the headquarters and house the engineering and administrative functions. Some jobs will be eliminated.

Quality may not have diminished, but the monopoly did cause commercial satellite launch services to flee overseas. The last time a commercial satellite launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was November 23, 2009. Intelsat 14 launched on an Atlas V from LC-41.

This is one fundamental difference between OldSpace and NewSpace.

I can't think of a single NewSpace company that loves to play Monopoly.

OldSpace companies have tried to keep the launch business for themselves. Most recently, ULA has tried to block Orbital Sciences from acquiring RD-180 engines for its Antares. ULA has an exclusivity agreement in the United States with supplier RD Amross.

In 2005, fledgling SpaceX sued to block the formation of ULA. The lawsuit was dismissed in May 2006. The judge noted that at the time SpaceX had failed to successfully launch a Falcon 1, the predecessor of today's Falcon 9.

September 14, 2011 ... Members of Congress announce the Space Launch System design. NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was relegated to a minor role in the event.

In 2010, as NASA's Constellation program was about to be cancelled, Congress scrambled to protect the OldSpace contractors by devising the Space Launch System. Critics have dubbed it the Senate Launch System. Congress ordered NASA to “utilize existing contracts, investments, workforce, industrial base, and capabilities from the Space Shuttle and Orion and Ares 1 projects.” That meant protecting Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and ATK.

OldSpace hates competition. NewSpace welcomes it.

NASA's commercial cargo and crew programs were designed from inception to be competitive.

As I wrote last March, the idea for these programs came from the Bush-appointed Aldridge Commission. They cited an existing NASA program called the Centennial Challenge, which gave cash prizes for “advancement of space or aeronautical technologies,” and suggested that “NASA should expand its Centennial prize program to encourage entrepreneurs and risk-takers to undertake major space missions.”

The commission's report called for “the breaking down of barriers to commercial and entrepreneurial activities in space, as well as a cultural shift towards encouraging and incentivizing more private sector business in space. Such a change in both perspective and posture is essential if we are to develop a broad-based, societal change in space business.”

That statement implied the commission acknowledged the sclerotic nature of OldSpace, and felt injecting competition was the way to do it.

NewSpace companies, for the most part, are motivated by the competition, although recently one NewSpace company showed it was willing to partner with OldSpace to defeat a NewSpace competitor.

In May 2013, NASA solicited proposals for commercial companies to use Kennedy Space Center's venerable Pad 39A. I wrote at the time that I was aware of SpaceX interest in the pad, but only at the last minute did Blue Origin step forward with its own proposal.

Even though NASA had not yet announced a decision, in September 2013 Blue Origin filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office, alleging that NASA had given an unfair advantage to SpaceX. The complaint was backed by United Launch Alliance and various senators who have enjoyed campaign contributions from OldSpace companies.

This tactic delayed the Pad 39A lease decision to at least January 1.

It's a typical OldSpace stalling tactic. According to Development of the Space Shuttle 1972-1981, after NASA awarded the solid rocket booster contract in late 1973 to Morton Thiokol (the ancestor of today's ATK), Lockheed Martin filed an appeal with the GAO. That delayed the final contract award six months; LockMart lost.

But that wasn't the end of the appeal. Senators John Stennis (D-MS) and Russell Long (D-LA) asked for another review and a further delay, because they wanted Lockheed plants in their states. Their appeal was ineffective, because the chair of their space committee, Frank Moss (D-UT), represented the state that had the Thiokol plant.

In 1971, after Rocketdyne won the Space Shuttle Main Engine contract, Pratt and Whitney filed an appeal with the GAO. It took eight months to resolve. Pratt and Whitney lost.

The two companies, ironically, merged in 2005.

Many NewSpace companies have no interest in NASA subsidies, although the government one day might be a customer.

Two companies are preparing for suborbital adventure tourism flights. Virgin Galactic plans tourist flights out of New Mexico's Spaceport America. XCOR has a different business model, hoping to eventually sell their Lynx spaceplanes to operators around the world.

Stratolaunch plans to fly from a runway such as KSC's former Shuttle Landing Facility by the end of the decade. Video source: Stratolaunch.

Stratolaunch is building the world's biggest airplane, planning horizontal launches of payloads into orbit. They're partnered with Orbital Sciences, which would provide the booster.

The Golden Spike Company is run by former NASA executives, but doesn't receive NASA subsidies. They plan human lunar missions using private sector technology that should be available by the end of the decade.

Bigelow Aerospace began when its founder, Bob Bigelow, licensed NASA's defunct TransHab technology for expandable habitats. NASA has acquired a test version called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for deployment at the ISS in 2015. NASA and Bigelow also have an agreement to study the commercial space model for cislunar transportation — but no money is changing hands.

SpaceX itself is developing a heavy-lift rocket called the Falcon Heavy, which would be the most powerful rocket on the planet and second most-powerful in history, behind the Saturn V. The Falcon Heavy is being developed with 100% private funds, not one penny from the government.

OldSpace and NewSpace represent two very different cultures. One likes to bully and bribe and stifle competition. The other, for the most part, embraces competition and punches above the belt.

Perhaps one day some of the NewSpace companies will become bloated and sclerotic, throwing around their ample girth in the halls of Congress. But that day is far in the future, a future where human access to space will be far more common thanks to the refreshing whiff of competition breezing through the aerospace industry.

I didn't want to overlook what NewSpace companies have spent on campaign contributions and lobbying, just so you know how they compare to the OldSpace players.

According to, SpaceX spent $194,000 on campaign contributions in 2012. No money was spent on lobbying in 2011 or 2012, although a December 2011 reporting SpaceX hired two former Republicans senators as lobbyists claimed SpaceX spent $500,000 on lobbying earlier in the year.

Orbital Sciences, the other commercial cargo company, spent $219,000 on campaign contributions in 2012 and $355,000 on lobbying.

Sierra Nevada Corp., competing with SpaceX and Boeing for the commercial crew contract, spent $271,000 on campaign contributions in 2012 and $750,000 on lobbying.

Bigelow Aerospace has made no corporate campaign contributions since 2008, according to

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SpaceX on Deck

Click the arrow to watch the launch of the “next generation” Falcon 9 on September 29, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Video source: SpaceX.

The first launch of the upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral is scheduled for Monday November 25 at 5:37 PM EST.

The payload is the SES-8 communications satellite, owned by SES S.A. but built by Orbital Sciences. SES is based in Luxembourg but operates commercial satellites for worldwide customers.

This will be the first commercial satellite launched from the Space Coast since November 23, 2009. Intelsat 14 launched on an Atlas V from LC-41.

Commercial satellite launches have gone overseas in recent years due to the monopoly granted to United Launch Alliance in 2006. The monopoly drove up prices as expected, so commercial business went overseas while ULA flew government payloads. SpaceX has challenged that monopoly with a new business model leading to lower prices.

SpaceX has a second commercial payload, Thaicom 6, scheduled in December for the Thailand-based Thaicom Public Limited Company.

The SpaceX launch manifest for 2014 lists six commercial satellite launches from the Cape, along with three commercial cargo deliveries to the International Space Station for NASA and its first U.S. Air Force payload.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex issued the below press release yesterday with viewing locations for Monday evening's launch.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Offers Best Public Viewing
of SpaceX Rocket Launch at Dusk on Nov. 25

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Nov. 20, 2013) – KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – As the sun sets in the west, a Falcon 9 rocket will light up skies on the east coast during the dramatic SpaceX liftoff scheduled for Monday, Nov. 25. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guests may view the dusk launch from the Apollo/Saturn V Center, the closest possible public viewing area, or special areas at the Visitor Complex.

The rocket is scheduled to blast off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:37 p.m. EST, carrying an SES 8 satellite.

Guests can experience the powerful sights and sounds of the rocket at special viewing available to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex guests from the Apollo/Saturn V Center, located within Kennedy Space Center, for $20 plus the cost of admission. Admission to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is $50 plus tax for adults and $40 plus tax for children 3-11. Bus boarding for the Apollo/Saturn V Center begins at 3 p.m.

Located along the Banana River just a few miles from the launch pad, the Apollo/Saturn V viewing area offers the closest public viewing opportunity in Brevard County. This viewing area will feature live launch countdown commentary.

Launch viewing is also available from Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and is included in regular admission, featuring live mission control commentary.

The Falcon 9 rocket will fly with upgraded Merlin 1D engines, stretched fuel tanks and a payload fairing. The SES 8 satellite will provide Ku-band and Ka-band direct-to-home broadcasting and network services over the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information or to purchase tickets, call 877-313-2610 and visit

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

This Space Available

Click the arrow to watch the Commercial Space hearing on YouTube.

The House Space Subcommittee held a hearing today simply titled, “Commercial Space.” Its purpose seemed to be to promote a bill introduced by House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and co-sponsored by Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL).

H.R. 3038, titled the Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining (SOARS) Act, was introduced in the house on August 2. According to the bill, its purpose is “To streamline the process of commercial space launch licensing and to establish demonstration projects involving the use of experimental aircraft in direct and indirect support of commercial space launch activities.” The bill was referred to this committee, and today was its first hearing.

If you're wondering why Reps. McCarthy and Posey are interested, it's the usual reason why members of Congress take an interest — it affects their district.

Rep. McCarthy's district includes the Mojave Air & Space Port. According to the port's web site, it is “currently home to more than 70 companies engaged in flight development to light industrial to highly advanced aerospace design, flight test and research and even heavy rail industrial manufacturing.” Among the many tenants are Virgin Galactic, XCOR, Stratolaunch Systems and Masten Space Systems.

XCOR, Stratolaunch and Masten all have plans for locating on the Space Coast. That's why Rep. Posey is interested.

Two other Republican members have cosponsored the legislation. Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) represents Cecil Field in Jacksonville, licensed as a commercial spaceport and a potential future XCOR launch site. The final cosponsor is Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

Click here for a PDF of the proposed bill.

One of the hearing's witnesses was Dennis Tito, multimillionaire entrepreneur who in 2001 became the first space tourist, paying $20 million to ride the Russian Soyuz to the International Space Station. Today Mr. Tito runs Inspiration Mars, which hopes to launch a civilian couple on a round-trip mission to Mars in 2018.

Space tourist Dennis Tito (left) in 2001 with Soyuz crewmates Talgat Musabayev (center) and Yuri Baturin.

Tito used the hearing to release his Architecture Study Report Summary, which proposes a combination of Space Launch System, its Orion crew capsule, an Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo module and potentially other commercial vehicles for a 501-day mission. To quote from the Inspiration Mars press release:

Inspiration Mars’ Architecture Study Report describes the proposed mission architecture to enable the voyage of 314 million miles in 501 days, which requires collaboration through a public-private partnership with NASA. The plan calls for two launches to keep crew and cargo separate, an inherent safety feature to the mission architecture. First, the SLS will lift off from Kennedy Space Center with a four-part payload to place cargo into Earth’s orbit, consisting of: an SLS upper-stage rocket to propel spacecraft from Earth’s orbit to Mars; a service module containing electrical power, propulsion and communication systems; a Cygnus-derived habitat module where the astronauts will live for 501 days; and an Earth Reentry Pod derived from Orion. The second launch will take the crew into orbit aboard a commercial transportation vehicle (selected from competing designs under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program). From there, the crew and Inspiration Mars vehicle stack will rendezvous in orbit using docking procedures perfected by more than 130 trips to the International Space Station.

As USA Today reported on September 22, anyone going to Mars would be exposed to “cancerous, or even lethal, levels of space radiation.” Mr. Tito's proposal released today remains silent on the radiation issue.

Joel Achenbach at the Washington Post wrote about today's hearing:

The plan has a lot of moving parts, and would require cooperation from NASA and a great deal of NASA hardware. The agency is building a jumbo rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), that is supposed to be ready for its inaugural, uncrewed test flight in 2017. Tito’s plan would essentially borrow the SLS for the Mars mission.

NASA officials did not immediately respond to Tito’s detailed proposal. In late October, in response to questions about possible collaboration Inspiration Mars and NASA, the agency released a cautiously worded statement, saying, “The agency will continue discussions with them to see how NASA might collaborate on mutually-beneficial activities that could complement NASA’s human spaceflight, space technology and Mars exploration plans. The agency has not made any commitments to Inspiration Mars related to launch vehicles.”

Former Commercial Crew Executive Faces Felony Charge

James Dean of Florida Today reports that former NASA commercial crew program manager Ed Mango “has pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge that he improperly intervened to help a colleague to whom he had loaned money.”

Mango loaned undisclosed amounts starting in October 2012 to the colleague — identified in court records as “C.T.” — including funds to hire a lawyer after her arrest last December, according to a plea agreement signed Nov. 13 and filed this week in the U.S. District Court in Orlando.

The charge of attempting to influence a matter in which Mango had an undisclosed financial interest carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Mango resigned on October 21, citing “personal matters.”

UPDATE November 21, 2013Florida Today has published a lengthier article with more details about the incident, including the identity of “C.T.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Home Stretch for Commercial Crew

NASA has released the Request for Proposals for the final round of the commercial crew competition. This is known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap).

Click here to access the RFP page. According to the description on that page, NASA has “the goal for completion of the baseline work no later than 2017 and providing for issuance of IDIQ task orders within an ordering period not to exceed 5 years from the effective date of the contract.”

According to their press release, “NASA expects to award one or more CCtCap contracts no later than September 2014.” The actual timing will depend on Congressional funding, or lack thereof; a NASA Inspector General report issued earlier this month found that commercial crew “received only 38 percent of its originally requested funding for FYs 2011 through 2013, bringing the current aggregate budget shortfall to $1.1 billion when comparing funding requested to funding received.” In each year, the Obama administration requested a significant increase to close the gap during which NASA relies on the Russian space agency for crewed access, only to have Congress butcher the funding request.

The NASA web site for commercial space transportation is

The current status of each of the three finalists:

Click the arrow to watch on YouTube the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser's first approach and landing free-flight test on October 26.

UPDATE November 20, 2013Alan Boyle of NBC News reports on the final found of commercial crew competition.

The timetable and resources available for commercial spaceships are key sticking points that are left unresolved in Tuesday's request for proposals. Last week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called on Congress to provide the full $821 million requested for the current fiscal year “to keep us on track to begin these launches in 2017.” Congress, however, has proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars less.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

And That's The Way It Is

Click the arrow to watch the MAVEN NASA Social on YouTube.

Once upon a time, three television networks ruled the news world. Walter Cronkite of CBS, Jules Bergman of ABC, and Roy Neal and Jay Barbree of NBC became national figures synonymous with the U.S. human spaceflight program.

If you want U.S. human spaceflight news coverage today ... Good luck with that.

Most NASA media events are covered by reporters from space-related web sites or bloggers with enough renown to be credentialed by NASA. The only “mainstream” media reporters I note at these events are Bill Harwood of CBS News, Alan Boyle of NBC News, and the seemingly immortal Jay Barbree.

It's rare that you see human spaceflight coverage on the nightly news. Many Americans have the false impression that NASA is out of business and Kennedy Space Center is shut down. From time to time, I still hear that notorious myth, “Obama cancelled the space program.”

Unable to penetrate the curtain of media apathy, NASA has turned to the Internet.

Visit the NASA Social Media web site and you'll find listed nine different social media outlets, such as Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus. Videos and photos can be found on YouTube, Flickr, Ustream and Instagram.

Perhaps NASA's most successful alternative medium is the mobilization of an army of civilian journalists through NASA Socials. Begun in the early months of the Obama administration, a NASA Social selects qualified individuals to be treated the same as a professional journalist. The idea is that these folks will turn to Twitter or Facebook or some other social medium to spread the word about NASA programs — an end-run on the mainstream media.

Today NASA held a social event at Kennedy Space Center for the upcoming MAVEN Mars probe launch on Monday November 18. NASA selected 150 followers to attend events this weekend at KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The attendees participated in a two-hour lecture at the Center for Space Education on the grounds of the KSC Visitor Complex. The event was videotaped and uploaded later in the day to YouTube.

Is it propaganda? Sure. But we live in an era of advocacy journalism. MSNBC caters to the progressive left, while Fox News panders to the Tea Party right. CNN seems more interested these days in celebrities and human interest stories than hardcore journalism. The days of Cronkite are long gone, relegated to clips on YouTube.

Listen to Walter Cronkite call the launch of Apollo 4 on November 9, 1967.

Also gone are the days of non-partisanship, or at least bipartisanship, on the Congressional space subcommittees. For the first time in recent memory, the Republicans and Democrats voted along party lines in deciding the Fiscal Year 2014 NASA budget.

NASA from birth in 1958 has always been a political tool. President John F. Kennedy turned NASA into a propaganda organ when on May 25, 1961 he proposed that “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” He didn't want to build Starfleet. His intention was to show the world, in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and Yuri Gagarin's flight, that U.S. technology was superior to the Soviet Union. The subject is best discussed by space policy analyst John Logsdon in his 2010 book, John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon.

NASA has its own cable TV channel. How many other government agencies can say that? (The only other one I can think of is the Pentagon Channel.) The channel is justified by NASA's historic charter to educate the public about space exploration.

Younger generations who've grown up with social media find all this perfectly normal. One major reason for the slow death of print journalism is that people turn to the Internet and social media for news, even though it may not be reliable.

They are the generation who will inherit NASA's future. They are the ones who will benefit from the research aboard the International Space Station. They are the ones who will fly on commercial crew vehicles to Bigelow habitats. They are the ones right now programming robotic craft to explore the solar system.

The median age of a SpaceX employee is 28.

The politicians in Congress deciding the future of NASA are from an earlier generation with different priorities, and many of those priorities are narcissistic. The next generation must find their own path to embrace their future in human spaceflight. Commercial space, in my opinion, is that path. By the end of the decade, hopefully, commercial space and adventure tourism will be operational, rendering Congress fairly irrelevant when it comes to human spaceflight.

NASA Socials help enthuse the next generation about this future, and encourage them to not only embrace it, but to birth it themselves.

Of course, I could be viewing all this through rose-colored Google Glasses.

Follow NASA Social on Twitter at @NASASocial. MAVEN's Twitter account is @MAVEN2Mars. The hashtag for MAVEN is #MAVEN.

When Kennedy Visited Cape Canaveral

Click the arrow to watch a Universal Newsreel of President Kennedy's November 16, 1963 visit to Cape Canaveral.

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral for the last time.

Kennedy's first visit was February 23, 1962 to honor John Glenn after his Friendship 7 flight. Kennedy returned on September 11, 1962, as part of a four-city whirlwind tour of NASA facilities and contractors.

His final visit on November 16, 1963 was during a brief vacation to the Kennedy family compound in Palm Beach, mixed with a little politicking in Miami and Tampa.

After a brief return to Washington, D.C., Kennedy would fly on to Texas where destiny would take his life in Dallas.

James Dean of Florida Today writes about Kennedy's final visit in today's issue.

Dr. Wernher von Braun (center) and President Kennedy view a Saturn 1 at Launch Complex 37. To the left is NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans. Image source: NASA.

You've probably seen the above famous photo of Kennedy pointing up at a Saturn 1. If you watch the Universal Newsreel at the top of this article, you'll see the context. The camera operator was filming from Kennedy's left and caught that moment.

The U.S. Air Force issued in 1964 a documentary called The Cape: 1963 which included a look at Kennedy's final visit. The clip is below; click here to watch the entire 26-minute documentary, which ends with the memorial ceremony after his assassination.

Click the arrow to watch a 1963 U.S. Air Force documentary excerpt on Kennedy's final Cape visit.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Buran Plus 25

Click the arrow to watch a Roscosmos feature on the 25th anniversary of Buran. It's in Russian but fun to watch.

November 15 is the 25th anniversary of the lone flight of Buran, the Soviet version of the U.S. space shuttle.

Buran was an obvious copy of Shuttle, but unlike the American version it flew its lone flight without a crew.

Spaceflight Now has an article on Buran and photos.

YouTube has a series of videos from 1986 of a Buran test article taking off from and landing on a runway, something the U.S. prototype Enterprise never did. Click here to watch the first of the videos. The Soviets strapped jet engines to their prototype to conduct approach and landing tests, unlike Enterprise which was released from the back of a 747.

The above video was released today by the Russian space agency Roscosmos to reflect on the 25th anniversary. It's in Russian, but you'll get the idea. The Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser makes an improbable cameo near the end.

For more information on Buran, visit

Buran launches on November 15, 1988. Image source: via

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Torch Has Been Passed

Click the arrow to watch the COTS press conference on YouTube. Video source: NASA.

When I saw the Olympic torch on its first spacewalk in history this past Saturday, I was reminded of NASA’s 50-plus years as the world’s undisputed leader in space exploration. Today, we have more evidence of that leadership. After more than 10 years of hard work, milestones and successes, NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program is passing the torch.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
“Commercial Space Program Keeps Flame of Exploration Burning”
November 13, 2013

Out of the ashes of Columbia have arisen two 21st Century spacecraft that fulfill the original intent of the Space Shuttle program — to build and operate an international space station with a full-time crew working in Earth orbit.

Today's media event at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. marked the formal end of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. It now evolves into Commercial Resupply Services, with SpaceX and Orbital Sciences delivering cargo to the ISS under fixed-price contracts.

I wrote last March about the origins of today's commercial space program. Although there was an effort in the 1980s during the Reagan administration to commercialize space, that ended after the loss of Challenger on January 27, 1986. NASA didn't want to lose any more civilians, so commercial payloads with civilian specialists were phased out.

It took the loss of Columbia on February 1, 2003 to prod Congress and the NASA bureaucracy into reconsidering NASA's business model. Buried in the Bush administration's Vision for Space Exploration sent to Congress in February 2004 was a proposal to “pursue commercial opportunities for providing transportation and other services supporting the International Space Station and exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.”

President Bush appointed a Commission on Moon, Mars and Beyond that issued a report in June 2004. An entire chapter of the report was devoted to what today is often called NewSpace. The chapter was titled, “Building a Robust Space Industry.” The commission noted, “It is the stated policy of the act creating and enabling NASA that it encourage and nurture private sector space.” They cited a NASA program called the Centennial Challenge that gives cash prizes for “advancement of space or aeronautical technologies,” and suggested that “NASA should expand its Centennial prize program to encourage entrepreneurs and risk-takers to undertake major space missions.”

On November 7, 2005, NASA opened the Commercial Crew/Cargo Project Office “to spur private industry to provide cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit and the international space station in support of the Vision for Space Exploration.” Alan Lindenmoyer, an ISS technical integration manager, was named project manager.

Participants in today's event. Left to right: Alan Lindenmoyer of NASA, Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX, Frank Culbertson of Orbital Sciences, Frank Slazer of the Aerospace Industries Association, and Phil McAlister of NASA. Image source: NASA.

Eight years and six days later, Lindenmoyer was one of the participants in today's media event to celebrate the successful completion of the COTS phase of the program. Along with Gwynne Shotwell from SpaceX and Frank Culbertson from Orbital Sciences, they received awards from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden formally acknowledging their achievements.

Shotwell said that of the $850 million spent on developing the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, $454 million came from SpaceX investment while $396 million came from NASA. Compare that to the roughly $500-800 million spent on one Space Shuttle mission. The SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services contract for twelve deliveries totals $1.6 billion, or about $133 million per flight. Unlike the Shuttle, the Dragon is a robotic spacecraft that does not require a crew. It can return samples, experiments, and parts from the ISS. Theoretically reusable, SpaceX hopes to evolve the Dragon into a crew delivery vehicle within three years. Abort tests of the crewed Dragon are scheduled for next year at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Culbertson did not disclose how much Orbital Sciences spent on the Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule. Unlike Dragon, Cygnus burns up on re-entry.

The event celebrated not only the achievements of the past, but the possibilities for the future.

The immediate concern is to complete cargo's sibling commercial crew program. Although commercial crew was on paper during the Bush administration, it was the Obama administration that funded commerical crew and made it a priority. According to today's press release:

On Nov. 19, the agency will issue a final Request for Proposals for the new Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCTCap) contract, designed to ensure commercial companies meet NASA’s safety requirements for transporting NASA crews to the space station. This procurement phase is expected to include crewed demonstration missions to the space station before 2017.

The timing of the procurement and demonstration flights depends heavily on Congress' willingness to fund the program. Congress has cut the Obama administration's commercial crew funding requests by roughly 40% over the last three years. For Fiscal Year 2014, the Obama administration requested $821 million. According to Space Politics, the Democratic Senate version appropriates $775 million, while the Republican House version offers only $500 million. The bipartisan cuts in earlier years forced NASA to sign an extension of its current deal to fly American astronauts on Russian Soyuz capsules for another one to two years, roughly through 2017.

UPDATE November 14, 2013 — NASA's Office of the Inspector General issued a report yesterday titled, “NASA's Management of the Commercial Crew Program.” It stated that Congressional underfunding was even worse than I wrote in the above paragraph:

The Program received only 38 percent of its originally requested funding for FYs 2011 through 2013, bringing the current aggregate budget shortfall to $1.1 billion when comparing funding requested to funding received. As a result, NASA has delayed the first crewed mission to the ISS from FY 2015 to at least FY 2017. For FY 2013, Commercial Crew Program managers had already expected less than the requested $830 million and based their planning on a funding level of $525 million. The combination of a future flat-funding profile and lower-than-expected levels of funding over the past 3 years may delay the first crewed launch beyond 2017 and closer to 2020, the current expected end of the operational life of the ISS.

It should be noted that NASA and its partners expect the ISS to be functional through at least 2028. The partnership agreements expire in 2020. NASA and its partners are talking informally about extending their agreements, and some NASA executives have speculated about a COTS-like program for ISS in the 2020s where the private sector takes over U.S. interests.

Both Shotwell and Culbertson highlighted a byproduct of COTS the 2004 commission envisioned. SpaceX is about to launch a commercial satellite from Cape Canaveral, the first commercial payload from the Cape since 2009. Commercial customers went elsewhere in recent decades because other nations offered cheaper alternatives. The COTS model has brought that business back to the U.S., and Culbertson said that Orbital is talking with both government and commercial customers for potential Antares launches.

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus berthed last month at the International Space Station. Image source: Orbital Sciences.

Lindenmoyer foresees a future where the COTS model could change NASA's relationship with the private sector.

I think it every important that NASA pave the way. NASA breaks through the challenges of the new technologies that are required to explore outside of Earth's boundaries and low Earth orbit, and then going deeper and deeper into space, to the Moon and beyond. So NASA is a governmental effort to tackle those new technologies, then turn it over to industry, who is set up to operate these systems in a more cost-effective manner. That's just a natural fit. So I think that's a very important part of the model, for NASA and the government to blaze the trail, and then turn it over for operation of any existing technology.

Lindemoyer said that in July NASA sent out a request soliciting industry for ideas how the model could be extended to other projects. He indicated that among the many responses were ideas for lunar missions, communications systems, propellant systems, and launch systems.

In combination with this week's Space Launch System and Bigelow commercial cislunar events, in my opinion it's clear that the United States as a spacefaring nation has embarked on its most meaningful decade of human space flight since President John F. Kennedy proposed on May 25, 1961 that the U.S. place a man on the Moon by the end of the decade and return him safely to the Earth. Four months earlier, during his inaugural address, Kennedy spoke words that had a different context but I'm reminded of them today:

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.

That torch will be carried by the science, technology, engineering and mathematics students this decade coming out of American colleges and universities. They are the ones who will benefit from a NASA soon freed of political intrigue and congressional porkery, freed to return to its 1958 roots. NASA can become a crucible of cutting-edge technology that will give birth to an entirely new economy based on permanent human access to space by the private sector.

Quoting again Kennedy, the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

One Way or the Other

Click the arrow to watch “Removing the Barriers to Deep Space Exploration” on YouTube. Video source: NASA.

Two media events held November 12 in Washington, D.C. offered complementary visions for NASA's future.

One event touted a big government rocket as the key to humanity leaving low Earth orbit.

The other acknowledged the reality that Congress will not fund a big government rocket adequately to perform any significant missions.

The common link between the two events was William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations. Present at both events, “Gerst” as he's known at NASA did his best to walk the politically correct line, knowing that members of Congress have their knives sharpened for any NASA executive who questions the wisdom of the big government rocket.

The Space Launch System, dubbed Senate Launch System by its critics, to this day has no missions or destinations. NASA proposed the Asteroid Initiative in April to give SLS a purpose, but Congress has failed to act on it — along with the rest of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget. (FY14 began on October 1.) When last debated, the Republican House had voted to ban NASA from doing an asteroid mission, while the Democratic Senate left it to NASA to decide which program is best.

When questioned by the media present, Gerstenmaier and other speakers — all executives with the aerospace contractors building SLS — described the big government rocket as a “capability” rather than an actual mission. One referred to SLS as another “tool in the toolbox.”

Boeing Space Vice-President John Elbon claimed an independent group “quickly came to the conclusion” that the big government rocket was “the efficient and affordable way to do a mission into deep space.” He didn't name the group, nor did he say where we could find their report to judge for ourselves.

Click the arrow to watch the CNBC report on the NASA/Bigelow event. You may be subjected to an ad first.

In the afternoon, Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow joined Gerstenmaier for a media event at a local hotel. Unlike the SLS event, which was telecast live on NASA TV, the Bigelow event was not. All I've found so far is the above CNBC report.

As reported by Florida Today, Bigelow stated the obvious for those who've been paying attention:

NASA's share of the budget could shrink even more in January if a budget deal a congressional committee is working on does nothing to prevent another round of sequestration spending cuts.

The agency's role as the world's trailblazer in space could disappear within a decade because it lacks the resources for missions beyond low Earth orbit “without significant help,” said Robert Bigelow, president of Bigelow Aerospace, which produced the report released Tuesday.

“If there is no outside help over the next 10 years, only a very modest human exploration effort is possible,” Bigelow told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Jeff Foust at NewSpace Journal has an excellent write-up of the Bigelow report presented yesterday.

A report prepared by Bigelow Aerospace for NASA concludes that the commercial approach that the space agency used successfully for developing commercial cargo transportation to the International Space Station should also be applied to developing transportation beyond Earth orbit, including in the vicinity of, and to the surface of, the Moon.

The report, prepared under a Space Act Agreement between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace announced earlier this year, is being formally released today at a press conference in Washington. It recommends that NASA pursue a partnership with industry to develop beyond-LEO transportation systems, given NASA’s constrained budgets and the record of success by NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft to supply the ISS.

“America is facing a fiscal crisis of unprecedented proportions making the likelihood of increased funds for human space exploration highly unlikely,” states an advance copy of the report provided by the company. “Therefore, the only viable option for the U.S. to reach cislunar space is to leverage the efficiencies, innovations, and investments of commercial enterprises.”

During the event, Bigelow raised his concern that China might make claims on the Moon. He said he would approach the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal agencies to amend the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to give private companies property rights on the Moon and other celestial bodies such as asteroids.

Writing this morning on his Space Politics blog, Jeff Foust posted:

Robert Bigelow indicated that the company plans to press their case for lunar property rights in the near future. “Bigelow Aerospace will be making an application to the FAA/AST [Office of Commercial Space Transportation] for a policy review pertaining to lunar property rights before the end of this year,” Bigelow said.

That policy review would take advantage of the FAA’s ability to perform a policy review of a license application, which involves interagency consultation. “I think it’s abundantly clear that, in terms of establishing lunar property rights or even making that request, that the FAA/AST is the proper gateway to begin that process,” said Mike Gold, Bigelow Aerospace’s chief counsel and head of the company’s Washington office, citing that interagency review process. “I know it sounds like a lot for one company or one request, but that is actually the way the process goes from a legal perspective.”

Bigelow Aerospace doesn’t have immediate plans for a lunar base, although it is a long-term goal for the company; it’s focused for now on developing orbital habitats and awaiting the developing of commercial crew transportation systems before launching those modules and lining up customers for them. So why press for it now? “We think that, first of all, this is not an overnight process, and that is probably the main reason why we are starting on this,” Robert Bigelow said. “We want to galvanize support where we can, and find out where the most significant support is derived from.”

“I have a more pessimistic view of the need for property rights,” he added. He cited an unnamed foreign country that has “significant ambition” in space and “significant financial resources” — a not-so-veiled reference to China. “It’s very possible that, in another dozen years, America could have quite a surprise.” Bigelow has previously stated his concerns that China could claim the Moon as its territory, although that view is not shared by those that closely follow Chinese space efforts.

According to NASA, the surface area of the Moon is 37,932,000 square kilometers (14,658,000 square miles) or 9.4 billion acres. Good luck, China, trying to protect all that in one-sixth Earth gravity from other spacefaring nations who won't recognize your claim anyway.

Jeff also tweeted that Bigelow was asked if Space Launch System was a possible launcher for his inflatable habitats. Bigelow said it might have a possible use for larger habitats he has on the drawing board.

Taking the larger view, Gerstenmaier's remarks at both events attempted to present a more generic vision that combined both government and private programs. He did not say how NASA would use the Bigelow report. My speculation is that NASA intends to quietly pursue more commercial initiatives without raising red flags that would draw further ire from a Congress which views SLS as pork for their states and districts, and that any other NASA human spaceflight program poses a threat to their porcine funding.

NASA has an event scheduled today at 11:30 AM EST to celebrate the successful conclusion of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. I'll be listening to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden's remarks to hear if he drops any clues about new commercial initiatives.

Click the arrow to watch a Florida Today excerpt from the NASA/Bigelow media event. You may be subjected to an ad first.

UPDATE November 13, 2013National Geographic published an article about yesterday's Bigelow event that focused mainly on the subject of lunar property rights.

The Man Who Sold the Moon? A private space company's chief, Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace Inc., called for the Federal Aviation Administration to allow property rights for lunar mining, at a Tuesday NASA briefing.

The North Las Vegas, Nevada-based firm already has a contract, announced in January, to provide the U.S. space agency with an experimental inflatable habitat for the International Space Station in 2015.

Now Bigelow, 69, wants private space companies (such as his own and Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket firm) to take a larger role in expanding NASA's astronaut explorations to beyond the space station's orbit.

Friday, November 8, 2013


An artist's concept of MAVEN in orbit around Mars. Image source: NASA.

NASA continues on schedule to launch its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe to Mars on Monday November 18, and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has planned a number of events in the days leading up to the launch.

From their press release:

The Visitor Complex will celebrate the MAVEN launch with four days of special launch-related activities, including a presentation on Sunday, Nov. 17 by Bill Nye of the Emmy award-winning TV show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy®.” Nye will speak to guests, preparing them for the launch of the MAVEN spacecraft. Nye is the chief executive officer of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space interest group, as well as a scientist, former Boeing engineer, stand-up comedian, author, inventor and man on a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society. He is the host of three currently running TV shows including “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” on the Science Channel, “The Eyes of Nye” on PBS and “Stuff Happens” on Planet Green.

From Thursday, Nov. 14 through Sunday, Nov. 17, Visitor Complex guests can discover a wide array of displays, exhibits and models themed around Humans 2 Mars including:

  • Learn about Humans 2 Mars by the 2030s; Mars past, present and future; recent scientific discoveries on Mars; and NASA’s Launch Services Program
  • Mark the 10th anniversary of Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity
  • View Mars as Art and a 3D Mars landscapes complete with 3D glasses
  • Take the exploration challenge playing interactive games
  • Stand next to a 30-foot tall inflatable Space Launch System and a six-foot tall Atlas rocket model
  • Explore the future of human space exploration through displays on the Space Launch System, Orion capsule, Commercial Crew Program and a manned Mars mission

Guests also have the opportunity to hear firsthand from experts about the fascinating science behind MAVEN during daily presentations including:

  • Nov. 14, 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., Kelly Fast, MAVEN program scientist, NASA Headquarters
  • Nov. 15, 11 a.m., Sandra Cauffman, MAVEN deputy project manager, Goddard Space Flight Center and 4 p.m., Dave Lavery, program executive for Solar System Exploration, NASA Headquarters
  • Nov. 16, 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Jim Green, NASA planetary science chief, NASA headquarters
  • Nov. 17, 11 a.m., Sandra Cauffman, MAVEN deputy manager, Goddard Space Flight Center and 2 p.m., Bill Nye the Science Guy

All presentations and special displays and exhibits are included in regular admission to the Visitor Complex.

Commercial Cargo Victory Lap

The Orbital Sciences Cygnus berthed last month at the International Space Station. Image source: Orbital Sciences.

It'll be a busy week for NewSpace in the upcoming days as media events will hail further successes in the Obama administration's strategy to open low Earth orbit to the private sector.

NASA issued a press release today announcing a media event scheduled for Wednesday November 13 to note the successful conclusion of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will discuss the success of the agency's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative during a televised news briefing at 11:30 a.m. EST Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Through COTS, NASA's partners Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corp., developed new U.S. rockets and spacecraft, launched from U.S. soil, capable of transporting cargo to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station.

A successful Orbital Sciences demonstration mission to the space station was completed in October, signifying the end of COTS development. SpaceX made its first trip to the space station in May 2012 and completed its COTS partnership with NASA the same year. The agency now contracts space station cargo resupply missions with both companies.

As I wrote on October 24, it was the Bush administration that conceived the COTS program but it was the Obama administration that gave it purpose and priority. Candidate Barack Obama during an August 2008 speech in Titusville promised to close the gap in which NASA was unable to service the ISS. With two robotic vehicles now capable of ISS deliveries — including the only one (SpaceX) capable of returning experiments and equipment — it took only a little over two years to end the reliance on other nations' cargo delivery ships.

As for commercial crew, all three participants are on schedule. SpaceX hopes to perform uncrewed Dragon abort tests in 2014. Boeing hopes to occupy its Kennedy Space Center hangar by spring 2014 where it will assemble CST-100 capsules. Sierra Nevada performed its first remotely operated Dream Chaser drop test on October 26; although the flight went well, an interim landing gear failed to deploy, causing reparable damage.

The only threat to commercial crew would seem to be Congress, which has cut the program's budget by about 40% over the last three years from what the Obama administration requested to close the gap. Congress has still not adopted a Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which means they have not reconciled the House's plan to cut commercial crew again with the Senate's plan to increase commercial crew funding.

Wednesday's presser will follow Tuesday's previously announced NASA/Bigelow Aerospace media event which could announce the next logical step, commercial space beyond Earth orbit.

Next week promises to be a big week for NewSpace.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

NASA, Bigelow Hosting November 12 Media Event

A model of Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitat modules on the lunar surface. Image source: Bigelow Aerospace /

NASA issued a press release today announcing a media event Tuesday November 12 in Washington, D.C. that is expected to reveal a possible commercial lunar program.

NASA and Bigelow Aerospace entered into an unfunded Space Act Agreement in March which authorized Bigelow on NASA's behalf to “facilitate and explore, in a manner that meets both national and commercial goals and objectives, joint public/private arrangements that would continue to build the ability for humans to live and work in space through the expansion of exploration capabilities beyond Earth orbit.”

KLAS-TV Las Vegas journalist George Knapp broke the story on April 10, and on April 19 space reporter Alan Boyle confirmed the report with more details. looked at the partnership in May, when NASA and Bigelow held a media event to announce preliminary findings. Click here to listen to an audio recording of that event. The November 12 event is to discuss the second-phase analysis submitted by the company.

Bob Bigelow's endgame has always been the permanent presence of his habitats on the lunar surface. Bigelow said at the May media event, “The brass ring for us is having a lunar base. That is a desire we’ve had for a long, long time.”

On Tuesday, we may get his roadmap.

I have to wonder how entrenched “OldSpace” interests zealously protecting the Space Launch System will react to this. If a combination of SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon capsules can deliver his habitats and customers to the lunar surface, then it calls into question why SLS is needed. NASA has proposed the Asteroid Initiative for the SLS in the early 2020s, but Congress has not approved that program and many of the House and Senate space subcommittee members have rejected the idea, demanding an Apollo redux they've been unwilling to fund.

So Tuesday could be the NewSpace foot kicking over the OldSpace ant hill.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Into the Home Stretch .. posted NASA's November 1 announcement that the final round of commercial crew competition begins this month.

Known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), this “is the second phase of a two-phased procurement strategy to develop a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability to achieve safe, reliable and cost effective access to and from the International Space Station (ISS) with a goal of no later than 2017.”

According to the announcement, NASA intends to release the Request for Proposals around November 19, with proposals due on January 22. Kennedy Space Center will hold a pre-proposal conference on December 4.

These dates are, of course, subject to the whims of Congress.

If interested, you can click here to wade through the RFP drafts on the Federal Business Opportunities web site.

The three finalists are SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada. The announcement indicates that NASA expects only these companies will submit proposals, but they will accept proposals from anyone.

The ISS Top Ten

Paige Nickason, the first patient to have brain surgery performed by a robot, points to the area on her forehead where neuroArm performed surgery to remove a tumor from her brain. Image source: Jason Stang via A Lab Aloft.

Over the last two weeks, International Space Station Program Scientist Julie Robinson has used the ISS blog A Lab Aloft to list her Top Ten ISS Research Results.

All ten are now online, so here they are with links to each article.

1. New Targeted Method of Chemotherapy Drug Delivery; Clinical Breast Cancer Trials Now in Development

2. Robotic Assist for Brain Surgery

3. Dark Matter is Still Out There

4. 43 Million Students and Counting

5. Pathway for Bacterial Pathogens to Become Virulent

6. New Process of “Cool Flame” Combustion

7. Colloid Self Assembly Using Electrical Fields for Nanomaterials

8. Hyperspectral Imaging for Water Quality in Coastal Bays

9. Understanding Mechanisms of Osteoporosis and New Drug Treatments

10. Preventing Loss of Bone Mass in Space Through Diet and Exercise